In a time when there were no clocks, alarms and phones to wake up people fasting during Ramzan, ‘sehariwallas’ used to go around towns, calling for people to rise before the sun came up—so that they could eat and ready themselves for the fast for the day. Though this tradition is dying, Mohammed Farooq Qureshi Sheikh (56), still goes around the Mohammad Ali Road area in Mumbai, calling, “Neend se jaago, sehari ka waqt ho gaya. Zindagi ka kya bharosa? Ramzan mile ya na mile.” Wake up, it’s time for sehar. Who knows what life will bring? If we are able to get Ramzan, or not?
A report in Scroll describes the 3 am buzz in and around Mohammad Ali Road and how Sheikh carries out his ‘wake up people’ job during Ramzan. Under the massive JJ Flyover all kinds of meats and sweets are being made at roadside stalls. Not a single restaurant is shut and Sheikh walks with a quick pace, making sure that those asleep, wake up in time.
For the last 18 years, during every Ramzan, Sheikh has made the same seven-kilometre hike from Shafai Masjid in Dongri to Dawoodbhoy Fazalbhoy High School in Chinch Bunder, Mumbai. The distance isn’t much. Sheikh walks through every lane, reminding the residents with his call to awaken for sehar (the meal eaten before the fasting for the day begins).
On the way, passersby who know him give him donations for his work. Children say “Taj Bhai, chalu ho jao.” Taj Bhai, do your thing. Sheikh finishes his walk by a quarter past four, about 15 minutes before sunrise, so he can eat his meal before the fast commences.
Sheikh began his Ramzan walks when he was in his mid-30s. His wife passed away when he was 22 and their son passed away soon after he was born. “In the beginning, I would walk up to the last floor in each building and call out to people. Now, I am too old to do that so I have this megaphone.”
Sheikh claims that he “might be the only one still practising the profession”, although he adds, “I don’t keep up with what others are doing. All I can say for sure is that I am doing it.” He plans to continue being a sehriwalla as long as he is “hale and hearty”, and is not positive that the future generations will continue his work.
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